Flight QF1. Sydney to London via Darwin.
Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, one of 11 in the Qantas fleet.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Qantas Frequent Flyer, part of the oneworld alliance.
Business class, seat 1A.
Scheduled flight time is 23 hours and 20 minutes (four hours and 25 minutes from Sydney to Darwin, a 90-minute transit in Darwin, then 17 hours and 25 minutes from Darwin to London). We arrive into Heathrow 35 minutes early at 4:30am, clearly surprising border control as we have to wait for someone to turn on the electronic passport gates.
5.6 tonnes for a business class passenger. Qantas offers a carbon offset scheme and has committed to capping emissions at 2019 levels and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Daily. This route was supposed to return to flying via Perth in March 2022 but this is now under review following the recent WA border closure extension.
This has all changed, with tests no longer required for fully vaccinated travellers entering the UK, but before I travelled in December, I had to book and pay for a COVID-19 test in the UK on or before day two. I also had to take a pre-departure PCR test, but, thankfully, that also is no longer required. I had to complete a UK Public Health Passenger Locator Form within 48 hours of arrival and that is still required.
All passengers flying Qantas must be fully vaccinated with proof in the form of an International Vaccination Certificate linked to their passport. Onboard, masks are mandatory at all times (except when eating and drinking) and no more than two people are allowed in the galleys and near the bathrooms. These rules will continue to evolve so stay informed by checking the relevant websites: health.gov.au, gov.uk and qantas.com.
Longer than normal because of an additional document audit but still relatively painless thanks to a dedicated check-in area for business passengers. In theory, all passengers can use the IATA Travel Pass app to present documents digitally but my pre-departure PCR test didn't have the required QR code so everything had to be printed. A depressing dearth of flights departing from the international terminal means I clear customs and security in a new personal best of four minutes.
Arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration in a separate 42-seat cabin, business class seats are 23-24 inches (58-61 centimetres) wide and have 46 inches (117 centimetres) of pitch. There are plenty of storage nooks and crannies plus USB charging, a multi-region power point and an adjustable reading lamp. All seats have direct aisle access and recline to a comfortable fully-flat 80-inch (203-centimetre) bed with mattress pad and doona.
Up to 40 kilograms of checked luggage, two carry-on bags (14 kilograms in total) and a personal item such as a purse or laptop.
Delivered via a touch-sensitive 40.5-centimetre screen and noise cancelling headphones, the entertainment system is packed to the gills with classic and new release movies, TV box sets, music, audio books and games. There's also a dedicated kids section with G-rated content and even a setting that allows parents to control the maximum classification shown (G, PG, M or MA). Items can be added to a personal viewing list and a handy rating system shows the verdicts of critics and fellow passengers. The 3D flight path is particularly engrossing, both because of the obscure Russian cities we fly over (who knew Arkhangelsk and Yekaterinburg existed?), but also for the zoomed-out view which shows the astonishing feat of a plane flying from one corner of the globe to the other without stopping.
A welcome glass of Duval-Leroy champagne sets the tone for this festive flight with the jovial London-based crew on the Darwin to Heathrow leg sporting Santa hats and reindeer ears. There are plenty of premium touches onboard, including a stylish retro amenities kit and a pair of Qantas' coveted grey pyjamas. During the 90-minute transit in Darwin, business passengers are ushered into the Qantas Club Lounge and greeted with cold towels and rousing cries of Merry Christmas. Despite many cabin crew (and pilots) not having flown for extended periods of time, the service onboard is polished, professional and endearingly heartfelt. Clearly, these are people that are happy to be back at work.
You could easily while away the entire 23.5-hour trip eating. A three-course Neil Perry-designed menu is offered on the Darwin leg, with options ranging from poached prawns with green papaya salad to braised lamb shank and Caribbean style pork. The London leg starts with a lighter two-course offering that's supplemented with a range of hearty on-demand snacks, such as salt and pepper chicken and an indulgent croque monsieur. The wine selection is fittingly upscale with dependable stalwarts alongside more adventurous options, like a delicious assyrtiko by Jim Barry Wines in the Clare Valley. The late-afternoon departure from Sydney means most people have dinner on the Darwin leg and then skip the main meal on the London flight in preference for sleep. Breakfast is chosen in advance from an exhaustive menu that includes fresh fruit, granola, crumpets and free range scrambled eggs.
ONE MORE THING
Qantas hasn't re-opened its business class lounge in Sydney's international terminal yet, so in the meantime business passengers can enjoy the stylish surrounds of the Marc Newson-designed first class lounge, albeit with a scaled down Neil Perry menu. Regular visitors will be relieved to hear his much-loved salt and pepper squid and deconstructed pavlova are still on offer.
In these turbulent travel times, being able to fly direct to the UK without the risk of getting stranded somewhere en route because of a COVID-19 outbreak or government policy change is reassuring. That this service is offered by Australia's national carrier on a 787 Dreamliner makes it even more compelling.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Rob McFarland paid for an economy ticket and was upgraded by Qantas (qantas.com).